an old maple table and the command to build a “little sanctuary”: a holiness story
“over 2,000 years ago,” our rabbi began last night, “our people mourned the destruction of the temple.” the temple, of course, had been the place of worship, of prayer and sacrifice. it was the holy place of the jews. and in the year 70 of the common era, it was sacked by the romans. destroyed to dust and ashes.
but “our people” are resilient people. they are the people of the diaspora. they know what it is to wander, homeless, in the desert. to be strangers in a strange land. they know — deep in the marrow of their bones — the history of exile, the history of holocaust. of nations turning their backs on a holy people.
our rabbi went on: she taught that in the wake of mourning their holy temple’s loss, the rabbis of the time urged the people to build mikdash m’at — little sanctuaries — in their homes, to bring their prayers into where they lived and ate and drank and bathed and slept. and so, all these millennia later, when once again we have been banished — by an invisible virus — from our temples — and our churches, and our mosques, and all our holy shrines — my rabbi was urging us, on the cusp of the holy days of awe, to build mikdash m’at in our circa 2020 houses.
From the Talmud, Megillah 29a: The verse states: “Yet I have been to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they have come” (Ezekiel 11:16). Rabbi Yitzḥak said: This is referring to the synagogues and study halls in Babylonia. And Rabbi Elazar said: This is referring to the house of our master, i.e., Rav, in Babylonia, from which Torah issues forth to the entire world.
מְעַט (n-m) heb
- littleness, few, a little, fewness
- little, small, littleness, fewness, too little, yet a little
- like a little, within a little, almost, just, hardly, shortly, little worth
i’d signed up for our synagogue’s workshop on creating a sanctuary in our homes for the high holidays because i am always up for carving out a sacred space. and i listened closely to the instruction: pick your prayer space, a place where you might feel elevated, outside the ordinary, at one with the sacred. a sanctuary, our rabbi explained, is a “space that’s holy or set apart.” she went on to define the ways we might fulfill God’s command, “make for me a sanctuary that I can dwell in.”
and so, once i’d sauntered back to the kitchen, as i was chopping eggplant and leaves of basil, dousing grilled peppers in balsamic glaze, i began to babble about this holy assignment. i recounted the instruction to the tall, bespectacled one with whom i share this creaky old house. i told him — in that way an eager student does — that we must pick a holy space. because, of course, the rabbi said so. and then i asked him where that might be. where would be our sanctuary for the holy days of awe? where might be the place where God — and we — could dwell?
and in that knowing way of his, in that quiet, certain, deeply-rooted-without-a-drop-of-drama-ever way of his, he lifted his finger toward the old maple kitchen table tucked in the corner, and he nodded. case closed.
there was no holier place in our house, of course, than the nearly century-old, hand-me-down maple table, the table etched with imprints of penmanship from ages-ago schoolwork, the table scrubbed bare in patches of whatever stain was long ago applied by some long-ago carpenter. the table where, since moving here almost 18 years ago, umpteen thousand prayers have been unspooled, night after night, morning after morning, midday after midday. countless stories — funny ones, hold-your-breath ones, rip-your-heart-out ones — have let rip here; tears, too. deliberations have been parsed here; life courses, corrected. midnight bowls of cereal have been gobbled down, and blazing birthday cakes presented on pedestals. books have been written here, and law school papers, too. we have mourned and rejoiced here. laughed and sometimes stormed away.
as poet laureate joy harjo so gloriously put it in her kitchen-table poem, “perhaps the world ends here,” “this table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.”
and it will be for us, in the unbroken days of awe ahead — the blessed new year, rosh hashanah, and the holiest of holy, the day of atonement, yom kippur — my bespectacled beloved and i will wrap ourselves in our prayer shawls and our prayers, we will lift ourselves out of the ordinary, and reach for the star-stitched heavens, we will hunker down at the years-worn, scruffed-up slab of old maple tree, and we will aim to dwell with the Almighty.
as it is commanded.
where would be your holy place, where would you build your little sanctuary, your mikdash m’at?
I hope you saw the updated version with a photo of T not to be missed (with birthday hat!!!) I didn’t realize it was missing till After I hit publish, but I don’t think email versions of the chair ever get the updates. Photos of life at that kitchen table truly my joy of this day, this sad day that will not be forgotten.
Sending love, by the way.
I just had to go look. OMGosh! And is that BK’s dad above that photo?
Yup, the one and only most beloved Grandpa Art❤️❤️❤️
And I think this one is my favorite! Calm, and so beautiful, soul touching on this September 11. Thinking of you embracing the beautiful holy days ahead, with your love!! xoxo
Sent from my iPhone
Love you to the moon, dear Mar❤️❤️❤️
How blessed are we to be invited to your sacred space on this day!
Wherever I am with my beloveds is my/our sanctuary!
beautifully, perfectly, put. xoxox
These photos are beyond beautiful… They just melt me…. Ohhhhhh my……… ❤
there is something about poring over photos from across the years. makes my heart ache in the most glorious way. on a date that is soaked in so much sadness. i remember cradling my newborn T on this day, staring at the screen, thinking, oh my god, what sort of world have we brought him into?? and, all these 19 years later, i still ask that……
sending love, my beautiful friend. xoxox
I might add – Thank the maple tree(s) 🌳 that make(s) up this sturdy table, which has provided a sacred, safe place for family and friends for so many years already, well worn, and the carpenter / woodworker / craftsman (woman?) who formed it with their hands, sanding and smoothing its surface. Look closely at the grain in this beautiful old wood which tells the story of its years and its journey as it was preparing itself to become a member of your family. ❤️
indeed, i did and do! i used the word tree to be mindful of its origin. i wish i knew that tree. i suspect it might have grown in the ohio river valley, though i’ll never know. and because i have beloved woodsmen and carpenters and fine furniture makers among my brothers and dearest friends, those sentences were odes to them. always layers and layers steeped in every story, in every prayer.
Wait, how long have you lived on Maple? Teddy is so little in those pictures. I especially like the one with Art, with him in his Spidey PJs.
apparently, it’s 18 years this december 27. although for one of those years we were away. love those little T pix too. happy camping, intrepid one! xox
Being an audio freakazoid my holy place is my most private inner space and
most public space my teaching & learning extension of my self — body soul and spirit
yes it is the place I write songs and go off the cuff where I’ve accompanied a few stars and
appeared on local TV and radio and transitioned with it into digital teaching and
podcasts AND IT LIVES INSIDE ME AND IT’S NOT ONE but many and it’s an altar
where I’ve bled and cried and sweat and yes emotionally died and resurrected and
sat and stared at it and wondered and it’s often the constant and I’m frequently the variable
and it challenges me and I wrestle it , where I encounter some of the greatest minds and
hearts of the ages & in its black & white topographic surfaces I create the loveliest colors
I will never see AND sometimes it seems like NOTHING MORE THAN A GLORIFIED MIRROR
or an amplifier OR A CANYON or a Maserati GT or the dark horse or a helicopter or an eagle
or a blank canvas OR A FESTIVE BOARD where I’m never bored, where I have had out of body
e x p e r i e n c e s BUT BEST OF ALL WHERE GOD MEETS ME EVERY TIME even when I miss
the downbeat! And helps me sound better than I can ~
mikdash m’at forgot to paste it note like a post it note and thank you B for forever asking GREAT QUEST yons / new spelling of old word that speaks of an invitation to a quest a journey I OWE ANOTHER DEBT OF GRATITUDE TO MY B WHOSE NAME HAS FIVE MAJESTIC MOUNTAINS IN ITS LETTERS which she can certainly write on legal pads or you name it
B🏔R B 🏔R 🏔 M🏔H🏔N Y
A little sanctuary in black and white….blessed that it holds you on so many octaves….
I was talking to God about how few words you’d need to myMANYasinMAhaNY! 16 ! Only two octaves! Eco-Mozart-Mobile high MPG Mahany per gallon. “A little sanctuary in black and white” with a front row shoreline seat to the b l u e m a r b l e . ‘🌏’
What a beautiful practice and commentary for our current moment in time …and stretching back to Old Testament practice and my New Testament practice of gathering around the family table for nourishment, physical, emotional and spiritual, and at the altar table. Thank you for sharing your “little sanctuary “ with us.
thank YOU for pulling up a chair and taking the time to share with us your own table practice. and for so kindly leaving a note here. blessings, b.